Fiddling With Daily Listening

You can actively build mental models of songs through daily listening. It’s a way to practice without your instrument. Doing this allows you to learn tunes more quickly. But more important than that, with daily listening, your music will sound more like music. You’ll naturally add more feeling and expression when you listen.

Steven King in his book On Writing simplifies the process of writing in two steps:

  1. Read every day
  2. Write every day

We can adapt that to music practice:

  1. Listen every day
  2. Play every day

Practice both passive and active listening.

Passive Daily Listening

Passive listening is how most people listen to music. Put on music in the background while you do something else.

Activities to merge with listening:

  • Driving to work
  • Washing dishes
  • Walking the dog
  • Exercise
  • Socializing, gatherings

Your brain is still learning even though you’re not giving it your full attention. This is called “perceptual exposure.” Listening to different high-quality versions of the same tune helps the brain to find patterns.

This helps you to move new songs along the “practice pipeline” from “Can’t do yet” to “Can do with effort”. And from “Can do with effort” to “Can to with flow.”

Active Daily Listening

Active listening means you give your full attention to listening. Do nothing else but listen.

Hum or sing along with the recording. If there’s a part that you can’t get, then listen to just that. This is deliberate practice.

A next-level practice is audiation. Listen to a part of a tune, then stop the recording and see if you can “hear it in your head.”

Ask questions as you listen.

  • Where is there repetition? Look for repeating parts, phrases, rhythms and lyrics.
  • What is the form? AABB? AABA? ABC?
  • What’s the hardest part?

If you’re trying to learn note-reading, then listen to a tune while looking at the sheet music. I call this “Intuitive Note-reading.” Without even knowing the rules of notation, your brain will start to pick up on patterns.

Learning vs. Review

There are two main uses for daily listening practice. Use it to learn new tunes. Listen to the tune twice a day for a week before learning it. Continue the practice once you begin learning the tune.

Also practice daily listening as a way to review songs you’ve learned. I tend to focus on tunes I don’t remember as well while skipping over tunes I know that I know. It’s good to hear just a little snippet of “mastered” tunes, simply because it reminds you that you know them. This kind of listening is a bit more active than just putting on music in the background while you engage in another activity.


Create Practice Playlists on whatever music app you use (YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) This way you can easily review what you’re currently learning.

Some ideas for playlists

  • Current songs (this month’s practice)
  • Master song list
  • Songs to learn
  • Genres (Irish, Cajun, etc.)

If you’re use Spotify, check out my Master Practice List playlist and my February 2023 Playlist.

Use Speed-changing apps like the Amazing Slowdowner, Anytune or Moises. These allow you to more clearly hear fast parts of a song. Of course, you can use these when you pick up your instrument to practice the song.

Listen before bed. Studies show that retention of information and learning goes up when you practice just before sleep.

Challenge ⛰️

Here’s a practice tip and a challenge. Listen to this tune at least twice a day for a few days before even trying to learn it.

See if you can hum or sing a part of that melody. After a few days, try to play it. If you’re able to play this then leave a comment on this page. If you you struggle (after listening for a week) then also let me know in a comment. We learn better together!

Super Extra Challenge: Once you can play the tune, notate the sheet music. This is a great way to take your note-reading skills to the next level.

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Further learning

Return to How To Practice Music >>

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One response to “Fiddling With Daily Listening

  1. I did it!!!! I learned Wheels on the Bus by ear!! So excited and encouraged. I have to say it took me listening to it repeatedly many, many times. I’m embarrassed to remember how long I spent on it, but it paid off and I’m happy!!

    thanks, Jason!!